Chairman's Corner: December 10, 2020

Jo Reed: I'm Josephine Reed from the National Endowment for the Arts with The Chairman's Corner, a weekly podcast with Mary Anne Carter, Chairman of the Arts Endowment. This is where we'll discuss issues of importance to the arts community and a whole lot more.  Back in June of this year, the National Endowment for the Arts produced two reports about how artists and arts organizations were meeting the challenges of COVID-19, both prepared by our wonderful Office of Research and Analysis. The first one centered on the results of surveys completed by 16 of the nation's national service organization about how their members were preparing to re-engage with audiences, but today, Mary Anne, you want to talk about the second report and give a sneak peek to its update.

Mary Anne Carter: That's right, Jo. From the original survey and other resources, our research office created "The Road Forward - Best Practices Tip Sheet for Arts Organizations Re-engaging with Audiences or Visitors," which goes into greater depth, looking at how organizations are working with social distancing, sanitizing, going virtual, and just overall communicating. Coming soon, there will be an update to the tip sheet called, "The Art of Reopening - A Guide to Current Practices among Arts Organizations during COVID-19."

Jo Reed: What's in the update?

Mary Anne Carter: The new report includes more data and nine case studies from arts organizations of varying sizes, different disciplines, and locations on what they are doing to getting back to quote "normal," and I use normal in quotation marks because it will undoubtedly be a new normal. "The Art of Reopening" isn't quite ready for distribution yet, but I want to give listeners a sneak preview by looking at three of the nine case studies.

Jo Reed: Where are we beginning?

Mary Anne Carter: Our first stop is the Lied performing arts center, part of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln that hosts touring performing art productions in its two theaters. So last summer, the Lied worked with neighborhood associations and a media sponsor on MUSIC ON THE MOVE, and outdoor, mobile concert series that toured Lincoln neighborhoods. On Saturday evenings, the Lied encouraged residents to step outside onto their balconies or porches or in their front yards to enjoy local artists performing live. The Lied also moved quickly with virtual programming, launching Lied Learning Online, a weekly education event that ranged from musical theater master classes for young people to movement classes for preschoolers, and the executive director, Bill Stephan, acknowledged that there was not a lot of financial return in this programming, however, he believed it was the right thing to do. He says in our report, and I quote, "I think contributing, giving back without expecting necessarily immediate returns in money is a good move to make sure you're staying connected and fulfilling what the community needs."

Jo Reed: I couldn't agree more. It's being a good neighbor.

Mary Anne Carter: That's right, Jo, and another good neighbor is based in Saranac Lake, New York. The Adirondack Center for Writing serves a 6-million-acre region that includes a lot of people in very remote areas with large distances between one town and the next, and one of AWC's tools for success and one that was highlighted in "The Road Forward" is partnerships with other organizations. Executive Director Nathalie Thill notes in the report, quote, "So we have strong relationships with not only arts organizations, but we've done programming to ski centers and in hardware stores and in bars and restaurants. All our presenting space is in other spaces, so when COVID hit, because we're small, I feel like that factor served us really well," end quote. Bringing literature outdoors, ACW did a project involving spray-painting poems on sidewalks using a type of paint that is visible only when it is wet. So when it rained, the words emerged from the concrete, adding surprise and magic to the project.

Jo Reed: That is so cool.

Mary Anne Carter: It is so cool. One of the key takeaways for Thill in this extraordinary time, is that audiences need changed as the pandemic continued over the months and that ACW needed to adjust to accommodate those shifts. "For the first two weeks," she says, "they needed calm. After that, they needed distraction. You had to be really aware of the psyche of what people were going through."

Jo Reed: It shows how vital the arts are, especially in difficult times like these.

Mary Anne Carter: Absolutely, and organizations large and small are stepping up. Take the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in Texas. It made national news when it became the first major art museum in the country to reopen to visitors, and that was back on May 23rd. The museum operated at 50 percent capacity with about 25 percent of its normal number of visitors coming through. It required face masks, temperature checks, and social distancing, and according to a New York Times story, the museum ordered vats of hand sanitizer, 250-pound drums, to be precise, along with 10,000 disposable face masks. This museum is fortunate to be in a spacious place where people can move around and keep their distance from one another without disrupting their viewing experience. The museum staff were fortunate to be able to study the experience of the Houston Museum of Natural Science that opened the week before they did. The staff was able to see what the science museum did and how it worked, and that's how this needs to work. We're all learning from each other. Amy Purvis, the museum's chief development officer, said, "I feel like we went into this with eyes wide open knowing all of the protocols that we needed to put in place to reopen in the first place. We studied it very carefully from other organizations." All arts organizations are going to be planning how they will reopen, keeping staff, artists, and audiences safe, and that's why I wanted to give this sneak peek at some of the practical innovation, arts organizations, again, large and small, rural and urban, are implementing. "The Art of Reopening" will be ready soon, and you'll be able to find it at We are all going to learn from each other because we are all in this together.

Jo Reed: Mary Anne, that's a great place to leave it. Thank you.

Mary Anne Carter: Thank you, Jo.

Jo Reed: That was Mary Anne Carter Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.  Keep up with the arts endowment by visiting the website or follow us on twitter @neaarts.
For the National Endowment for the Arts, I’m Josephine Reed. Stay safe and thanks for listening.

Music Credit: “Renewal” composed and performed by Doug Smith from the cd The Collection.

This week, the chairman gives us a sneak peak at the new report The Art of Reopening.